Southern Spotlight: Five Hundred Dollars Per Hour

James Banahan

James Banahan


A scary story to start your day:

One night, after a particularly long and difficult day in the field, a grower decided to turn in for the night a bit early. Most of his planting was done, and he was bone tired. He ate dinner, showered, and hit the hay. It started to rain at 2 a.m., and it didn’t stop for two weeks.

When the rain finally did stop well enough to complete planting, he did, but come harvest, he calculated that yield loss cost him four grand that season. Which means that his eight hours of sleep that night in May came at the price of $500 per hour.

I’m not trying to deliver a moral here, just a point: the decisions that we make during planting, which is arguably the most important operation we undertake in the course of any season, can have major consequences. I’d like to say that most decisions aren’t consequential to the tune of a few G’s, but it’s truly alarming how easy it is to lose ten or more bushels per acre when you make unwise planting decisions.

Planting into soil that is too wet can easily end up costing you $40 per acre when all is said and done, and that’s a conservative estimate. As your planter toils through the wetness, it will bounce, it will skip, and it will double. The seed to soil contact will be lousy, and compaction will occur. Furthermore, the size, scope, and speed of modern equipment allow us to spread a bad decision all over our fields very quickly, so that single, poor decision to venture into the fields too soon after a rain could be widespread and costly.

Going to fast can also be costly. Let’s say that you have a tad too much coffee one morning and decide to blaze through your fields at 8 mph. At too high of a speed, it doesn’t matter if the rest of your planting decisions are right on the money, you’re going to lose yield, and you’re going to lose it fast.

Closeup of new corn plants

None of this is meant to give you heartburn. I know that right now, we’re all devoting every ounce of our beings into getting our crop in the ground, but we need to be worried about doing it correctly. Not just getting our crop in. Doing everything right the first time will allow all our hard work to pay off the way we want it to in the end.

Right now, the calendar says that we should be planting corn, but your soil temperature may or may not agree. Getting our crop in right means that we have to pay attention to such things. We have to watch and wait for the right conditions, be conscientious about our planter settings, and stay engaged as we carry out the act of planting.

We also have to be safe. Though planting is important for our season, don’t let your drive to get that crop in compromise your safety. Don’t skip any necessary last minute safety checks, and regardless of the scary story that I started with today, if you’re truly too tired to safely continue a day, pay attention to and heed those limits. After all, your health and wellbeing is worth a lot more than $500 an hour.